Monday, June 16, 2014

The Public Sphere

The World Is Ruled & Governed by Opinion
I guess it is no news that Habermas's "public sphere" should be dated much earlier than the late 17th–early 18th century. In my work on world literature, in particularly on early communications networks, I came across the above 1641 broadsheet (click to enlarge) illustrated by the Bohemian etcher Wensalaus Hollar (b. 1607), as he was known in England, where he resided for several years in the Earl of Arundel's household from 1637. As Wolfgang Behringer has written, "the breakdown of censorship in England in 1642 dramatically illustrates the effect of the new media complex, with an unprecedentedly powerful new species of public opinion being generated within the space of weeks. ... Once ignited, the desire for free expression could never be entirely extinguished, and with the second expiring of the Licensing Act at at the time of the 'Glorious Revolution' press freedom was made a reality, thereafter remaining the hallmark of a free society." (See "Communications Revolutions: A Historical Concept," German History 24 [2006], p. 369.)

By the way, Professor Behringer is an amazingly wide-ranging scholar. Besides his books on the Thurn and Taxis and, in Im Zeichen des Merkurs, a history of the German postal revolution in the early modern period, he has investigated the history of witchcraft and of climate change.

Picture source: British Museum (1850.0223.244)

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